The other day I had an interesting experience. I had arrived early to Sienna’s school for an assembly. She was being awarded for demonstrating “Fairness” at one of her school’s “Character Counts” assemblies! Wanting to be sure to get a parking spot, I’d planned to get there early. When I arrived, there was an old Patti Loveless song playing (I’ve been pulling old CDs out lately and enjoying the little trips down memory lane). I simply turned off the ignition, gazed out at the beautiful day and the wind blowing through the trees, and listened. My mind was quiet. I was still.
A few minutes later, a father of one of Sienna’s classmates got into the car beside me. I suddenly felt self-conscious for just sitting in my car, staring at the window, not doing anything. I had the urge to pick up my cell phone so I would appear busy, engaged in a more socially acceptable behavior. It’s something you see parents doing all the time. Gazing out the window, on the other hand, is less common. Folks are typically too frantic, running from place to place, activity to activity.
Lately my prayers and thoughts have focused on the differences between God’s ways and worldly ways, on what God values versus what the world values. I often pray that this verse from Isaiah would reign in my heart: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts, (Isaiah 55:8-9).
The world values individualism, productivity, and positive thinking, among other things. Humanistic, secular ideas permeate our world. Look at the messages that films send – in the end, the protagonist always achieves personal success by their own power. They overcome obstacles through their wisdom, courage, or personal greatness. As Ronald Rolheiser says in Forgotten Amongst the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears – “Our world teaches us that we are significant and precious, but then deprives us of the one thing that can make us so, God. This sets off an incurable ache,” (p. 20). The world tells us to boost our self-esteem, be confident and bold, and seek the accumulation of material goods and the admiration of our neighbors, in short to make it on our own. Rolheiser states, “Why the need for masks, for pretense, for hype, for all kinds of lies that let us project certain images about ourselves? Because we are trying to give ourselves something that only God can give us, ultimate uniqueness, significance, and immortality,” (p. 23).
Godly ways, in contrast, value love, sacrifice, meekness, hope, and above all the light of Christ shining in the world. The main distinction between God’s ways and the world’s ways is to whom the agency is attributed – who is achieving the good deeds. As St. Paul says, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me, (Galatians 2:20). On a more basic level, the world believes that mankind is innately good and one is capable of doing good deeds. However, God teaches that humanity is fallen, sinful, and in need of a Savior. In Romans, St. Paul says that “…no one does good, not even one,” (Romans 3:12). I’ve found a great freedom in embracing that Christ does good things through me. His strength, goodness, and love are perfect, whereas alone, I am weak and deficient.
There’s nothing I can or could do to be more special or unique than being loved and created by God. Achieving what the secular world tells me is important will pull me away from the peace, joy, hope, and love that only Christ can give.
So, I didn’t pick up my cell phone and pretend to be engaged in some terribly important task. Instead, I gazed out the window and said a prayer of thanksgiving that Christ has redeemed me and taught me that His ways are so much higher than my ways.